Monday, 29 April 2013

What do awards ceremonies really achieve?

Why is such a fuss made of awards ceremonies? What are they really for and who do they serve? And why do they grab headlines?  Perhaps no-one dares question because awards bashes keep the mills of industry going. Just as some people are famous for no other reason than being famous, awards ceremonies exist for the purpose of making some people seem more important than they really are. Perhaps that's why there seems to be a new award organization every year. It's a licence to print money out of thin air.

Don't make the mistake of blaming the winners or nominees. Awards aren't dominated by artist agents, venues or their own PR people. They are being used just as much as us mugs the public. Awards are run by whoever thinks they can use artists to promote themselves. That's where the real money goes. We can't blame artists and managements if the want to salvage a bit of publicity. But we should learn to sniff for substance.

Anyone can create a new award and generate enough interest to get the snowball rolling. The recent International Opera Awards was brilliantly well organized, with mega high profile guests and a great party. The Olivier Awards were held in the Royal Opera House though they have little to do with opera, and were on TV. Whoever did the PR for these two events deserve awards for themselves. This is how business operates. Doing it well is genuine achievement.

So who really stands to benefit ? The International Opera Awards are aimed at "promoting excellence in opera and in providing funding through The Opera Foundation for the operatic community" and were founded by "businessman whose Nexus Group of companies has a successful record in promoting awards ceremonies in other sectors".  The Oliviers have a much longer track record, but derive their name from Laurence Olivier, who wasn't really involved.

How some awards arrive at nominations is a mystery. How can the Metropolitan Opera compete with Streetwise Opera for "accessibility", whatever that means? How could Opera Up Close win "best new production" in the Oliviers against A Dog's Heart and Adriana Lecouvreuer?  How can apples compete with pineapples, for that matter. The best that can be said is that the nominees cannot be influencing the outcome or the guys with money would win.

Nominees are good or bad on their own merits, whatever the awards might say. So how do "winners" get chosen? This year's Olivier nominations were so non-comparable that the outcome wasn't hard to guess. The Opera Awards nominations were strange because who could really choose between Terfel, Kaufmann,  Calleja or Beczala on purely artistic terms?  Perhaps it's significant that one of the categories was for "best philanthropist/sponsor" although they failed  (shock ! horror!) to mention Shell International!

The Awards Industry is a capitalist miracle. It creates its own product and market only loosely related to the real providers of creative achievement.  It doesn't reflect on reality except by accident, though the publicity generated can affect reality in the long run.  Everyone loves parties and guessing games  and no one is actually hurt, as long as no one takes artificial awards seriously. So9me awards, however, are better than others.

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